5 home-run ideas from Boston's $41 billion start-up market

David Whitford, special to CNBC.com
David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox
Billie Weiss | Boston Red Sox | Getty Images

Harvard is here. MIT is here. And so is Babson — which boasts an MBA program that has been ranked No. 1 for entrepreneurship 22 straight years by U.S. News & World Report.

Lots of smart, ambitious people in Boston. Which is a big reason why, long past the heyday of what used to be called America's Technology Corridor (Route 128), the region remains one of the best places anywhere to launch a company.

According to a recent report by industry analyst PitchBook, Boston-based start-ups have raised more than $41 billion in venture capital funding since 2006. That ranks the city third in the United States behind only San Francisco and New York. Software companies took the biggest share of the pot, followed by health care (services/supplies/systems) and pharmaceuticals (including biotech).

Here's a roundup of five Boston-area start-ups that are attracting an ever-increasing number of investors.

Wanderu
Wanderu is like Orbitz, but for cash-strapped millennials looking to books buses and trains.
Source: Wanderu

Founder: Polina Raygorodskaya
Launched: 2012
Raised: $8 million

Wanderu is like Orbitz, but for cash-strapped millennials looking to books buses and trains. (For longer trips, you'll get flight suggestions, too.) The company's blog also helps whet your travel appetite with posts about the best party towns and places to catch rare Pokemon.

Thirty-year-old founder Raygorodskaya came to the United States from Russia as a child, studied entrepreneurship at Babson College and started her own PR firm sophomore year, a business that required extensive (inexpensive) travel. In 2015 she led Wanderu to the final round of Richard Branson's Extreme Tech Challenge on Necker Island. The company didn't win, but it earned a "My personal favourite" mention on Branson's blog, plus an expression of "my personal interest as an investment candidate." To date, though, Wanderu is still waiting for Branson to pony up.


20-20 On-Site Optometry
20-20 On-site is a rolling optometrist's office that can park on the street outside your workplace, provides full exams, lets you try frames, delivers your glasses or contacts within days, and takes insurance.
Source: 20-20 On-site

Founder: Howard Bornstein
Launched: 2014
Raised: $8 million

Can't see a way to leave work to get your eyes checked? 20-20 On-site Optometry, founded by a former Bain venture capitalist, comes to you: It parks a rolling optometrist's office on the street outside your workplace, provides full exams, lets you try frames, delivers your glasses or contacts within days and takes insurance. No more DWD (driving while dilated), though your co-workers might tease you when you're wearing your dilation specs. The service is available now in Boston and Atlanta and is coming soon to Chicago.


Door of Clubs
A meeting of the University of Notre Dame Society of Women Engineers, an example of a campus club that can receive money from corporate sponsors like Disney, Amazon, Mastercard, and Bank of America through Door of Clubs, which connects potential employers with a young, diverse talent pool across nearly 500 clubs on 140 campuses.
Source: Door of Clubs

Co-founder/CEO: Pranam Lipinski
Launched: 2015
Raised: $500,000

What do companies want? Talented college grads. What do grads want? Jobs. What does Door of Clubs do? Bring the parties together through college clubs. Door of Clubs raises money from corporate sponsors like Disney, Amazon, MasterCard and Bank of America and gives it to clubs — nearly 500 so far on 140 campuses. The more members the club has, the more money it gets.

"Every club gets the opportunity to raise $1,000," said co-founder Pranam Lipinski. Selective colleges and clubs that cultivate high-demand STEM skills have lower thresholds. The sponsors in turn get first dibs on potential interns and employees, prescreened for passion, skills (computer science is tops) and highly specific traits. According to Lipinski, 80 percent of the companies that work with Door of Clubs are keen on increasing the diversity of their workforce. Are you looking to hire more women coders? More black engineers? There are clubs for that.

(Pictured: A meeting of the University of Notre Dame Society of Women Engineers.)

Starry
Source: Starry

Founder: Chet Kanojia
Launched: 2016
Raised: Undisclosed, but announced a Series A round in January from backers, including KKR, IAC and Quantum Strategic Partners

He's back. Kanojia's last venture was Aereo, the time-shifting, Wi-Fi-enabled broadcast TV service that lost a challenge brought by the networks in the Supreme Court, leading to the company's demise. One key learning from that business: Most people's home Wi-Fi is messy. Starry thinks it can clean up that mess with its Starry Station, a $300 touchscreen router that buffers data for seamless downloads, monitors network usage and offers parental controls. Also coming soon is Starry Internet, a wireless alternative to your current internet service provider.


Lola
Source: Lola

Founder: Paul English
Launched: 2016
Raised: $20 million

From the co-founder of Kayak (which sold to Priceline for $1.8 billion in 2012) comes something like the antidote to Kayak: a travel app that connects users with actual travel agents who possess actual knowledge and experience. You note your hotel and flight preferences and Lola works with you — by text, initially, and by phone later if you prefer. And once you arrive at your destination, Lola can help you find theater tickets, pick a restaurant, book a tour or offer any other assistance with your stay.